Thursday, February 25, 2010

Review: Border Crossing by Jessica Lee Anderson

Found via GalleyCat

Books about mental illness can be tricky things. It's easy to go over the top or get overtly sentimental and sad about such a debilitating condition. But I was still curious about Border Crossing, in no small part because it's also about a person of color. "Issue" books often seem to want to focus on only one issue at a time - thus characters default to white. Here, Anderson has created a compelling half-Mexican teen protagonist who is also struggling with the onset of schizophrenia.

Manz, the son of a Mexican immigrant father and a white mother, has never had an easy life. When his parents worked as apple pickers, they were moving constantly. After his father's death, he and his mom settled down, but life didn't get any easier. She's a hard drinker who's had a series of boyfriends. She seems to have settled down somewhat with Tom, but there are still lingering problems - like memories of the child she miscarried several years ago.

Now, Manz wants nothing more than to get out of his small Texas town, populated with lots of people who don't take kindly to having a Mexican, or even a half-Mexican, in their midst. Manz works as a day laborer, along with his friend Jed, in order to earn as much cash as he can towards getting the hell out of Rockhill.

But as the summer wears on, Manz finds himself becoming increasingly paranoid. People are listening to his thoughts and laughing at him behind his back. His friends and family are concerned about him, but the voices tell him they actually want him dead. He begins to wonder if maybe it really would be better if he were dead, and if maybe these were the same thoughts his dad was having before his fatal car crash.

Anderson does a great job weaving Manz's identity as a Mexican-American into his illness - Manz is paranoid immigration officers will think he's actually an illegal immigrant and deport him, or worse. It adds an element of personalization to the story - this could only be Manz's story, no one else's. One thing I would have liked to see, however, is a more immersive experience; even though it's a first person story, it's very clear to the reader when Manz is giving into the paranoia. I would have loved to see the lines between fantasy and reality much more blurred, so that the reader becomes part of Manz's delusions.

There's also a subplot involving Jed's family that just felt unnecessary in the context of the larger story. Jed has an abusive father, and Jed is the only one that stands up to him. But this has no larger influence on the plot; it's not like Jed's father's violent tendencies play into Manz's paranoia or anything. I felt it ultimately detracted from Manz's story.

Back on positive notes, I also like how this doesn't have a pat ending. Manz isn't cured by the end of the book, though he is in treatment. Anderson does a good job of showing that medicines and therapy aren't a magic cure, and that Manz still has a long way to go in the treatment of his illness.

Also positive: not a whitewashed cover!
Border Crossing by Jessica Lee Anderson cover

Good on Milkweed Editions - who sound like very cool publishers. They're a non-profit that "publishes with the intention of making a humane impact on society, in the belief that literature is a transformative art, uniquely able to convey the essential experiences of the human heart and spirit." Which is pretty darn awesome if you ask me.


Ah Yuan // wingstodust said...

Sounds intriguing. Definitely will check this book out. =D

MissAttitude said...

Have I mentioned how much I LOVE your blog? Yo say my WoW posts introduce you to books you might have missed, well your blog does that for me! Thank you for pointing out another YA with a POC that deals with mental illness. I'm adding Border Crossing to my tbr/wishlist :)

Milkweed Editions sounds like an amazing publisher, hooray for nonprofits tht want to make a humane impact on society!

It can be very hard to write about mental illness (although I've only read a few books about mental illness; Bleeding Violet, Marcelo in the Real World and I loved both so I can't really say), you're right on in saying that it can't be too sad or seem like it's belittling their condition. I admire any author who attempts to tackle this topic with respect

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